LOS ANGELES Amway, the door-to-door peddler of vitamins and soap, wants to reinvent how Hollywood sells entertainment.
The owners of the multilevel marketing company are pouring millions of dollars into a new online store called Fanista (pronounced fa-NEE-sta). The Web site, set to make its public debut this week, will initially sell DVDs and CDs.
In the coming months it plans to add video games, digital downloads and books.
People can simply use Fanista as a place to shop. But the company hopes most consumers will join as members signing up is free and then recruit their friends.
The carrot: If your friend joins and buys something, identifying you as the reason for joining, you get 5 percent of the sale in cash or credit.
Think of it as part Amazon (online retail), part MySpace (social network) and part Amway (direct pitch from somebody you know).
"The distribution system for the entertainment business is broken," said Daniel H. Adler, Fanista's founder. "We're pioneering a new model."
A newfangled Internet business pops up every few weeks in Hollywood and promises to revolutionize something or other. But movie studios and music labels are taking the upstart seriously.
Money is a reason: Alticor, the owner of Amway and Fanista's sole financial backer, says it generates about $6 billion in annual revenue.
"Those are awfully deep pockets," said the writer and entrepreneur Norman Lear, who helped connect Adler with the direct-sales giant.
Through his various business partners and friends in Hollywood, Lear knew that Adler was tinkering with a new Web-based distribution system and that Alticor was looking for a new angle, perhaps in entertainment.
More important, Adler, 44, is an entertainment insider. He formerly worked at the Creative Artists Agency, where he led the new-media division, and Walt Disney, where he was a creative developer, or "imagineer."
Adler helped introduce LidRock, which created a stir in 2004 by distributing music on miniature CDs tucked inside the lids of movie theater soda cups.
"His Rolodex of relationships is what makes this different," said Sherry Lansing, the former chairwoman of Paramount.
Adler aims to exploit the increasingly cynical view of consumers, particularly young ones, about the way Hollywood pushes its wares.
"Regardless of what the big marketing campaign says is hot, regardless of what the big-name critic says is good, people make entertainment purchases based on the recommendations of people they encounter directly," he said.
The company arrives as Hollywood experiments with the Web to build a more direct relationship with consumers.
The rock band Radiohead last month allowed fans to set their own price for digital downloads, while Blockbuster recently signed a deal with Facebook to promote movie rentals. When members of the social network rent films from Blockbuster.com, they will be encouraged to have their movie choice broadcast to all their Facebook contacts.
Some Internet analysts say Fanista faces an uphill battle, however. "Historically, with the exception of Amazon and Wal-Mart, the shopping mall approach hasn't worked online," said David Card, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research who focuses on online media.
Amway also suffers from an image problem because of lingering memories of its past legal troubles. Most prominently, the company pleaded guilty in 1983 to defrauding the Canadian government and paid $25 million in fines. In recent years, India, China and Britain have investigated the company's business practices.
Conscious of the negative connotation of multilevel marketing, Fanista coined a happier term. The site describes the sales model to users as "common interest commerce." The site is currently being tested and operates independently of Alticor.